I’m not exactly sure why a remake of Red Dawn was necessary. Perhaps there was something a little edgy about the original in 1984 that doesn’t quite hold up so well today. That first film depicted a group of teens banding together to face off against a Soviet attack on American soil, a relevant topic at the time, given the Cold War and the ghost of Communism fear. It was also the first movie to be rated PG-13, setting off a change in the way the MPAA viewed movie sex and violence, and helped to launch the careers of Patrick Swayze, Lea Thompson and Charlie Sheen.
But that was then, this is now, and in a year when the star of Teen Mom is marketing her own sex tape and a chubby little fudgepot called Honey Boo-Boo telling the world how to make ‘Sketti with ketchup and butter breaks all sorts of television ratings, something like an invasion from a foreign country seems trivial in comparison. This time, the threat is North Korea (also relevant, although a conspiratorial plot involving reality TV stars taking over EVERY SINGLE NETWORK! would have been as equally chilling) and the setting is Spokane, Washington. We get a brief and perfunctory introduction of key characters: Jed (Chris Hemsworth), the marine on leave, his brother, Matt (Josh Peck), and their girlfriends, are navigating the ups and downs of life in the Pacific Northwest. We also meet Jed and Matt’s father, a local cop and single dad, who obviously loves his boys very much. Before the ink is even dry on the opening credits, however, there’s a massive explosion, and Korean paratroopers start falling from the sky. Military planes are blown to bits. Neighborhood houses explode into splinters. America — or Spokane, rather — is under attack. This prompts Jed and Matt to hightail it to “the cabin” with their friends, which they do, until they’re given up by one of their own. A tragedy ensues, and the boys and their friends go on the run.
This entire setup takes place in the first fifteen minutes of a 93 minute movie, and what remains is not only implausible, but remarkably dull. The teens use every MacGyver-y trick in the book to menace the terrorists to an annoying degree. They set labyrinthine traps, plant IEDs, and cause such great distress to the local commander, Captain Cho (a criminally underutilized Will Yun Lee) that he’s paid a visit by his boss, who gives him a royal ass-chewing, complete with English subtitles. Now, I’m no great artisan of war, but even I know that there’s no chance a wayward group of teenaged boys and girls, with absolutely no help from outside forces, is going to undo a carefully planned military attack. Red Dawn stretches the limit of believability, and then snaps it cleanly in half. It’s an absurd idea. But even an absurd idea can be entertaining. Have you ever, in your life, not been thrilled by a Quentin Tarantino film? This is a lifeless movie, devoid of suspense. The action sequences are tiresome, shot without energy or a sense of momentum. The characters have little depth, and are given no time to develop before the script hurls them headlong into death-defiance. By the time the ending came and more teens had been left dead in the dust, I found I was left with a curious lack of sympathy for any of them. And shouldn’t a movie about kids defending their turf against terrorists inspire at least a little bit of sympathy?